Weaker retail stocks and a slide for oil company BP prevented the FTSE 100 Index from rounding off a strong week in positive territory today.
The Footsie closed 0.5 points lower at 5477.7 after an uncertain session saw the top flight break the 5500 barrier but then fall as low as 5462.
The performance mirrored that of blue-chip poker company PartyGaming, which set new lows in its short life as a listed company, but then made a post-lunch recovery to close at the top of the Footsie risers board.
The owner of PartyPoker has seen its share price fluctuate since its summer flotation and was earlier at 85p as investors fretted about uncertain prospects of the online gaming sector. Investors later sensed a buying opportunity to leave the stock 4% or 3.75p higher at 91.25p.
Oil major BP was among the session’s heaviest fallers as the stock tracked the latest fall in the price of crude in New York.
But while BP dipped 10p to 673.5p, rival Royal Dutch Shell held firm to close 2p higher at 1958p. Footsie newcomer Cairn Energy slid 23p to 1961p.
Retailers were also having a difficult day as fashion chain Monsoon became the latest chain to highlight slowing sales figures.
Next bore the brunt with a decline of 19p to 1392p while B&Q owner Kingfisher followed suit with a drop of 2.75p to 216p.
Marks & Spencer was caught in the sell-off, even though Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston and Lehman Brothers took a more positive stance on the troubled company’s prospects. The broker upgrades initially lifted the stock to a three-year high, but M&S drifted to close 2.25p lower at 374.75p.
An upgrade from Deutsche Bank enabled SABmiller to spend much of the session near the top of the Footsie risers board, eventually closing 11p higher at 1099p.
SAB was joined on the way up by a clutch of tobacco stocks, even though British American Tobacco received a ruling in Canada that cleared the way for the company to be sued for costs of smoking-related illnesses.
Investors took the view that any claims could take 10 years to settle and BAT shares rose 13p to 1191p, while Imperial Tobacco added 31p to 1624p and Gallaher cheered 12p to 880p.
On a quiet day for corporate news, Tesco rose 2.5p to 309.5p after an agreement to swap its assets in Taiwan with French counterpart Carrefour, which will give the UK firm a handful of sites in central Europe.
For Monsoon, shares were 4.5p lower at 412.5p after its revelation that sales growth had slowed to 3% because of the high street slowdown.
The biggest Footsie risers were PartyGaming up 3.75p to 91.25p, British Land ahead 22p to 940.5p, William Hill up 12.5p at 583p and Imperial Tobacco ahead 31p at 1624p.
The biggest fallers were Reuters down 6p at 374.25p, BP off 10p at 673.5p, Next down 19p at 1392p and Kingfisher off 2.75p at 216p.